Print book sales up again in 2018

News - Books Monday, 07 January 2019

Fourth year of growth, while early Nielsen figures suggest digital sales rose also; strong performance in Ireland

The value of print book sales rose 2.1% to £1.629bn in 2018, the fourth consecutive year of growth, according to figures from the Nielsen BookScan Total Consumer Market (TCM). Sales volumes were up too, by a more modest 0.3%. The figures belie the argument that pessimists made when the resurgence of print began, that the phenomenon was solely a reflection of the craze for colouring books, and that the underlying decline of the market would soon be apparent once more. Another argument, that print books were regaining popularity as enthusiasm for ebooks faded, seems also to be invalid: if the trends that Nielsen recorded up to September 2018 continued, ebooks and digital audiobooks also made gains during the year.

A further welcome piece of news is that booksellers have not had to rely so heavily on discounts in order to achieve sales growth. The TCM average selling price (asp) hit £8.53, its highest point on record, and the average discount from recommended retail prices was 22.5%, the lowest for 15 years. Michelle Obama's memoir Becoming, the Christmas number 1, was discounted on average by 41.6%, but still sold for an asp of £14.61 - an unusually high price for a book at the top of the charts.

Top 10 titles
Becoming (534,000 copies) was the fourth bestselling title of the year, following Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman (866,000), The Ice Monster by David Walliams (625,000), and This Is Going To Hurt by Adam Kay (541,000). At five was Lose Weight for Good by Tom Kerridge (407,000). (Kerridge's title was more heavily discounted than Obama's, from £22 to £10.01.)

Next come The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris (370,000), The World's Worst Children 3 by David Walliams (366,000), The Meltdown by Jeff Kinney (365,000), The Midnight Line by Lee Child (355,000), and Guinness World Records 2019 (352,000).

The value of adult fiction sales was up 1.1% by value, but down slightly (0.7%) by volume. Within the category, general and literary fiction (which embraces Gail Honeyman and Marian Keyes in the top 20) recorded a small decline by volume of 0.2%. Crime, thriller & adventure, with five titles in the top 20, declined in volume and value from a strong 2017.

Trade non-fiction grew in value (4.3%) and volume (1.8%). Children's, young adult & educational was up 0.1% in value, and down 0.6% in volume.

The overall figures were: trade non-fiction - £719.3m (2017 - £689.7m); adult fiction - £359.1m (£355.3m); children's, young adult & educational - £384.9m (£384.7m). Specialist non-fiction sales were worth £161.6m (£162.0m) - though it may be that a significant number of sales in this area, as in educational publishing, take place through channels not monitored by BookScan.

Penguin Random House maintained its market leading position, at 21.4% of the total, but with a 3.9% decline in sales. Hachette increased its share to 12.7% after growing 3.2%, followed by HarperCollins with an 8% sales growth. Pan Macmillan returned to growth (sales up 9.5%), increasing its share to 4.7%, and Bloomsbury grew 6.9% to take 3.1% of the market. OUP stayed just ahead of Bonnier with 2.2% of the market, but saw a 3.3% fall in sales. Simon & Schuster (1.9% share) grew its sales by 0.3%, and Usborne (1.5% share) had a strong year, with sales up 8.8%. In 10th place came Scholastic, with sales of £24m.

The top 10 publishers enjoyed a 59% share of the overall market. Among the smaller houses to record sales gains during the year were Canongate (18.2%), Hardie Grant (15.4%), Nosy Crow (32.9%), Pavilion (11.9%), Head of Zeus (10.9%), Atlantic (24.8%) and Centum Books (61.6%).

It was a good year in Ireland, with book sales up 6.5% in value (to €140.5m) and 6.4% in volume.

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine was also the number 1 title here. Emer McLysaght and Sarah Breen had two titles in the top five, with The Importance of Being Aisling at number 2, and Oh My God What a Complete Aisling at number 4. Splitting them at number 3 was David Walliams' The Ice Monster, and Graham Norton's A Keeper was at number 5.

The Aisling novels, published by Gill, were largely responsible for a 36.3% value growth in sales of Irish-published fiction. Overall, the adult fiction market in Ireland grew in value by 9.1%.

Children's book sales were up 5.1% by value. They account for a higher percentage (30.1%) of the overall market than in the UK (24%).

As in the UK, market leader Penguin Random House saw a sales decline (4%), while its closest pursuer Hachette recorded sales growth (10.2%). The publishers' respective market shares were 19.4% and 12.7%. Gill, publisher of the Aisling novels, recorded sales growth of 18.6%. Measured by sales of Irish-published titles, Gill was the number 1 publisher, with Hachette at 5 and Penguin Random House at 6.

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